26 Nov 2013

Scotland’s ‘once in a generation’ opportunity

Launching the Scottish government’s blueprint for independence, Alex Salmond says Scotland’s future “is now in Scotland’s hands”. But the document includes a commitment to keep the pound.

Scotland’s First Minister and SNP leader, Alex Salmond, said at the launch: “Scotland’s future is now in Scotland’s hands.” His deputy Nicola Sturgeon said the document was “based on the belief that decisions about Scotland should be taken by people in Scotland”.

The 670-page paper sets out how independence from the rest of the UK could have an impact on all areas of life, including currency, taxation, childcare and education, pensions, welfare, defence and broadcasting.

The Scottish Nationalist administration also outlines a number of pledges it says it would fulfil if elected as the first government of a newly independent Scotland, with a “transformational extension of childcare” to help working parents, a cut in corporation tax to boost business and a simplified and fairer tax system.

We do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better. Alex Salmond, Scotland’s First Minister

It also promises to end controversial welfare reforms brought in by Westminster, such as the so-called “bedroom tax” and universal credit.

The paper, described by the Scottish government as the most detailed independence blueprint ever published, says a yes vote would mean “the most important decisions about our economy and society will be taken by the people who care most about Scotland, that is by the people of Scotland”.

‘Once in a generation’

It claims a no vote would mean that a “once-in-a-generation opportunity to follow a different path and choose a new and better direction for our nation is lost”.

Mr Salmond said: “Our vision is of an independent Scotland regaining its place as an equal member of the family of nations. However, we do not seek independence as an end in itself, but rather as a means to changing Scotland for the better.

“This guide contains policies which offer nothing less than a revolution in employment and social policy for Scotland, with a transformational change in childcare at the heart of those plans.

“We believe it is only with the powers of independence – by completing the powers of our national parliament – that we will gain the tools we need to create a more prosperous and fairer society.”

Mr Salmond said an independent Scotland would keep the pound. He said Scotland’s public finances were healthier than the UK as a whole, which meant the “general level of taxation” would not have to rise to meet existing spending.

Tax claims

The launch coincides with warnings from the UK government that independence could mean Scots paying an extra £1,000 a year in tax. Chief Secretary to the Treasury Danny Alexander said Treasury analysis suggested leaving the UK could see basic rate taxpayers north of the border paying more in taxes.

It is a fantasy to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership. The white paper is a work of fiction. Alistair Darling, Better Together

There are currently more than 2.4 million basic rate taxpayers in Scotland, who in total contribute £6.1bn in income tax, according to Treasury figures.

UK government analysis shows they currently pay an average of £2,517 a year. But the Treasury research suggests that if the basic rate of tax was increased from 20 to 28 per cent, this would rise to £3,523 a year – an increase of just over £1,000.

‘Work of fiction’

Better Together Chairman Alistair Darling, the former Labour chancellor, said the SNP had “ducked the opportunity to answer the big questions about Scotland’s future, adding: “We have waited months for this and it has failed to give credible answers on fundamentally important questions. What currency would we use? Who will set our mortgage rates? How much would taxes have to go up? How will we pay pensions and benefits in future?

“It is a fantasy to say we can leave the UK but still keep all the benefits of UK membership. The white paper is a work of fiction. It is thick with false promises and meaningless assertions.” Mr Darling said independence “would be a huge leap in the dark … we can have the best of both worlds – a strong Scottish parliament with the strength and opportunity of being part of a bigger United Kingdom”.

The white paper contains a Q&A section, runs to more than 200 pages and provides answers to 650 questions on independence. The answers, along with downloadable copies, are available here.

Over-16s in Scotland will be asked on 18 September 18 2014 if the country should be independent, ending three centuries of political union with England.